By Philip Schweier
Part of the appeal of Blackhawk at the time was that he and his team were all fighter pilots. But the aerial action in the serial is somewhat token, and the bulk of the excitement takes place on the ground, and usually immediately following a rain storm. I’ve never seen so many puddles on film before.
The use of industrial settings and rural roads is perhaps a cost-cutting measure, avoiding the expense of filming permits in town. Serials had grown progressively cheaper since their heyday. Bigger budget fare such as 1936’s Flash Gordon had been replaced by the cheapest of the cheap. Each of the bad guys’ various hideouts are identical, to confuse their various captives as to their location. Riiiggghht.
Infiltrating the Blackhawk organization, Boris wreaks havoc until the other Blackhawks suss him out and he pays the penalty for failure. Ramrodding Laska’s organization is the mysterious Leader, whom we see only from behind as he sits in his study plotting to destroy OUR America.
But when element X comes into play, we are introduced to Mr. Case, whose Boston accent gives him away as the Leader. Supposedly, element X, as a fuel source, can provide an astounding amount of power. Laska and her cohorts want it, even if Mr. Case must die for them to get it.
The production reunited Alyn and Forman, who had squared off against one another in Superman (1948). Though Superman had proven more bankable, Alyn does better as Blackhawk, not having to wear the cape and attempt super-feats via cheap special effects. Forman is also a bit more believable as a fellow traveler than as the villainess Spider Woman. Despite all the Blackhawks being European, none of them have accents, other than the unfortunate Weaver Levy, who plays Chop Chop, and is relegated to serving as the Blackhawk’s Chinese cook/mascot.
Out of idle curiosity, I watched the serial on YouTube one Sunday when I had nothing better to do. If it’s available on DVD anywhere, I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but watching it once for free just to get it over with – well, that’s up to you.